Tag Archive: Thomas Fehlmann


June was a relatively quiet month (as July will be) but there’s still four albums to report on, starting with….

This month’s biggest disappointment is the self titled début album by Blanck Mass aka Benjamin John Power of Fuck Buttons. This ambient album’s main problem is that apart from the devastating ‘Land Disasters’ and ‘Sundowner’ the rest of the album all sounds very similar and a lot of it recalls Oneohtrix Point Never, whom it has to be said has pretty much perfected this corner of ambient music. The tracks are overly repetitive and where other artists use this aspect to create hypnotic music this release feels boring and staid. The reoccurring use of field recordings of water and the wave-like synth sounds are a cliché within the genre and they aren’t deployed in any new or interesting way on this album. The digital feel of the album and the fact it was made 100% on a laptop makes it a polar opposite of Fuck Buttons’ hands on analogue approach, this might explain why I came away feeling the album lacks impact and anything truly engaging.

Next  “Perfect Darkness”, the new album from Ninja Tune’s troubled folk troubadour Fink. Though not an album that will grab most people on its first play there’s plenty of positives in favour of this release. First of all Fink proves he’s no one trick pony showing that he can enhance his trademark sound with strings (‘Perfect Darkness’) and electric guitar (‘Honesty’, ‘Warm Shadow’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’), he also manages to show a new lighter side on ‘Warm Shadow’, ‘Save it For Somebody Else’ and ‘Berlin Sunrise’. In addition to this there is extensive use of extra effects and textures all of which means this is Fink’s most varied album yet. Not an instant hit but definitely a grower that could reveal much on repeat visits.

To mark the tenth anniversary of founder Florian Fricke’s death German label SPV have put together a two disc package. The first disc collects classic Popol Vuh tracks across the band’s 30 year career and the second disc is comprised of remixes. The first disc features tracks from the albums that were used as soundtracks to classic Werner Herzog films of the 1970s and early ’80s. This disc definitely does what it set outs to; to group the best moments but also be varied in the style, mood and textures. Included are the haunting opener ‘Aguirre I Lacrima di Rei’, the peaceful closer ‘Kailash: Last Village’ via the medieval ‘Bruder Des Schattens’, the shiny ‘In Your Eyes’ and everything in between. A great introduction to this underrated band and one that could entice some buyers to explore further.

The first half of the second disc is a disappointing selection with the exception of the Thomas Fehlmann mix, though that does sound like a Thomas Fehlmann track. These remixes adhere to a formula of focusing on particular elements of the songs and then writing a four to the floor track around them, some tracks acknowledge the mood or atmosphere of the original but a lot don’t and these come across as very lazy. Only a few remixers such as Mouse on Mars, Stereolab and A Critical Mass do anything interesting rhythmically with the mostly beat-less originals. The second half is an improvement with Mika Vaino’s ambient mix, Mouse on Mars glitch hop mix and Stereolab’s subtle interweaving of their own brand of analogue weirdness being particular highlights. The final track is an extended version of ‘Train through Time’, a track the most directly links Popol Vuh with dance music and this version gets to the dancefloor destination that the original only hints at.

The remix disc makes sense in a lot of ways with many of the contributors being signed to progressive German labels such as Kompakt who can be linked back to the philosophy of Popol Vuh and their fellow Krautrockers. Despite the second disc being a bit of a disappointment the first disc and the few good remixes make this a package worth exploring.

In addition to my initial thoughts which you can read in last month’s 2011: through my (biased) eyes Battle’s “Gloss Drop” has continued to grow on me and inspire new thoughts. The main one being that some tracks feature a concrete sounding backdrop that is juxtaposed with  Caribbean/Calypso rhythms and melodies playing over the top. This shouldn’t work but the band have bent these opposing sound to their will. The more I play the album the more enjoyable it is and the more Battles sound at ease with their experimental new sound. Like Gang Gang Dance’s “Eye Contact” this has barely been off the stereo and could be serious competition for the number one spot in the end of the year review!

Spotify playlist:

June playlist

Coming up this month on Sonic Fiction:

Classics Critiqued – “Low” by David Bowie

Recommendations – July

A very quiet month in terms of new releases of note but here’s a couple that are worth checking out:

David Borden, James Ferraro, Samuel Godin, Laurel Halo, and Daniel Lopatin – ‘FRKWYS Vol.7′ 18th July (digital 30th July) (RVNG Intl.)

The latest edition of the brilliant FRKWYS (Freakways) series on RVNG Intl. is a collaboration between electronic music pioneer and composer David Borden and four stars of the current boom in solo synthesiser music. The track ‘People of the Wind Pt. 2′ is streaming at RVNG Intl. website and offers a preview of what is to come.

Steve Mason and Dennis Bovell – “Ghosts Outside” 18th July/25th July (Double Six)

Steve Mason (ex Beta Band) released joined forces with the much respected reggae artist / producer Dennis Bovell (producer of Linton Kwesi Johnson and U.K. Dub legend) to create the album “Ghosts Outside” which is released July 2011 through Double Six. The album is a radical ‘dub’ reinterpretation of Steve Mason’s “Boys Outside” long-player which was released to widespread critical acclaim in 2010. Download a free track ‘Yesterday’s Dub’ here.

The 2000s saw techno tangle with pop music with many artists incorporating directly pop-influenced melodies and harmonies as tracks evolved into songs. Meanwhile minimal techno and its main purveyor M-nus continued to blossom and Kompakt’s rich techno hallmark garnered critical acclaim. The end of the decade also saw the rise of the Berghain and Ostgut Ton artists who have captured the imaginations of many by reinvigorating the ‘Berlin’ sound that some had perceived to be stagnating. Similar to the Three Decades of Techno: The Second Chapter, I will focus primarily on the genre’s development in Germany throughout the last decade whilst covering other European and South American artists who have shaped the sound of techno’s future.

Growing into an empire of distribution with an incredible record and download shop, booking agency and a number of sub-labels (Immer, Profan, Kompakt Pop, Kompakt Extra), Cologne’s Kompakt has a near mythological quality in the techno world, is admired by virtually all techno fans and can be pinpointed from the start of the 2000s as the beginning of techno’s cross-pollination with pop music. Wolfgang Voigt has described the label’s signature as “honest, simple. It is adult techno, cultural techno” and has also frequently spoken about the importance of the “boom boom boom” that underpins all electronic music, something the label has explored by releasing boundless variations of techno, tech-house, ambient, ambient-dub and pop music. In essence the famous “Kompakt sound”, which is mentioned in almost everything written about the label, is the incorporation of traditionally pop music melodies and harmonies into that fundamental pulsing 4/4 bass drum and looped, textural ambience: firm but supple.

Despite first making its reputation as a sponsor of minimal techno Kompakt’s trademark has always been a full and distinctly, a lovingly intimate sound. Thomas Fehlmann’s “Honigpumpe”, the “Nah Und Fern” compilation by GAS and The Field’s “From Here We Go Sublime” embody this eloquently. Its core artists Voigt, Michael Mayer, Superpitcher, DJ Koze, Reinhard Voigt and Justus Köhncke have been with the label for a decade or more. Though they have often released projects under pseudonyms covering different styles these artists have helped the label achieve its distinct and renowned identity. Kompakt has played a remarkable role to techno over the decade with music critic Simon Reynolds crediting it as the “label that’s contributed more than any other to Germany’s dominance of electronic dance music this decade [the 2000s].”

Chilean-German DJ and producer Ricardo Villalobos is one of the most revered names in techno. Though usually described as minimal techno, his productions are too singular to be part of one genre. His critically celebrated 2003 debut album “Alcachofa” from which the seminal ‘Easy Lee’ and ‘Dexter’ were cultivated is a unique collection of intricate and highly detailed tracks; keywords in Villalobos’ discography. Included on several compilations and mixes curated by his peers Richie Hawtin and Michael Mayer and others that year, ten minute opener ‘Easy Lee’ builds slowly with delicate percussion pattering under an uneasy vocodered vocal refrain and showcases Villalobos’ expert hand in creating subtly composed sound-designed tracks. Writing for All Music Guide, Andy Kellman observed “Alcachofa”‘s (artichoke in Spanish) appropriate title, “If the kind of vivid house you hear blaring in the hip clothing store is an apple, giving the mouth an instant burst of flavor the moment the teeth puncture its skin, then the microhouse of Ricardo Villalobos is more like an artichoke – a more subtle fruit that’s consumed by peeling off its fleshy leaves and delicately skimming the pulp off the inner surface.”

An exceptional feature of Ricardo Villalobos’ work is that his productions truly feel equally perfect for both home listening and DJ sets, something that many artists have tried to achieve, because despite the elongated grooves and naturally evolving structures that are suited to the dance floor the microscopic details and the queasy feeling of nervousness that permeates his material, especially “Alcachofa”, can only be detected when listening in stasis.

His bespoke speakers that resemble a gramophone which use every frequency across the spectrum, his passion for audio fidelity and sound design, his immersive Fabric36 mix and the sheer complexity and amount of work that Villalobos puts into creating his productions display why he is such a highly regarded figure in techno who is continuously mentioned by critics and artists. The influence of his work on new producers going in to this decade like Nicolas Jaar, Shackleton and The Field in such a short space of time is a testament to his talent and individual material.

Just over halfway in to the decade The Knife released “Silent Shout” and Ellen Allien and Apparat released “Orchestra Of Bubbles” in 2006. “Silent Shout” is an ideal example of the blurring of lines between techno and pop seen in the 2000s, due in part to The Knife’s conceptual, theatrical heart. The Swedish pair’s music is as much techno as it is pop: it has narratives, chord changes, even sing-able choruses. Karin Dreijer Andersson, singer and co-producer, manipulates her voice to become the songs’ protagonists, enabling her to sing in the first person; making the songs far more personal and significant. Yet they are also distancing – as if the listener is an audience member in a macabre play where each scene introduces a new character – the lyrics are skeletal and leave the subject matter open-ended. Dreijer Andersson has explained that the films of David Lynch, in particular the scene from Mulholland Drive in which the lead characters go to a midnight concert where the music is generated from a playback tape, are a great influence on how she presents the songs.

The nightmares of the title track, ‘From Off To On’’s whispering voices, the naïve character in ‘Forest Families’ who, shamed for having “a communist in the family” and told their “favourite book was dirty”, sings about the particular and the universal as the song rises and falls, the furious sexual equality sea-shanty ‘One Hit’ and the schizophrenic voice in ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ going hysterical with fear all create the haunting and uneasy mood of “Silent Shout”. Yet it also offers easy to miss humour in the sly  hip-hop beat that announces the arrival of ‘We Share Our Mother’s Health’ and ‘Marble House’’s ‘singing whale’ synth. The album pushes what we can consider to be ‘techno’ and it is The Knife’s ingenious use of pop melodies and characterisation which play against the techno landscape of rippling filters, de-tunings and thunderous 909 claps that makes “Silent Shout” compelling and musically momentous.

Berliner Ellen Allien, acclaimed DJ, producer, graduate of leading ‘90s club Tresor and chief of the record label BPitch Control has spent the last decade releasing five albums and numerous DJ mixes that showcase her distinctive blend of pop-indebted melodies (she claims to have learnt to speak English by listening to David Bowie records), thick bass lines and techno-fied breakbeats. Apparat who co-runs the record label Shitkatapult has released a handful of albums and EPs which combine his understated voice, not unlike Thom Yorke’s, with home-listening designed intelligent dance music (IDM). Their album “Orchestra Of Bubbles” is perhaps the pinnacle their careers. Their differing electronic music styles: Allien’s sweet, dance floor techno and Apparat’s melancholic IDM make the release a thrilling album where the tracks pull and push against each other. It ascends and descends, the glide of techno is resisted by jerky IDM beats, misty pads contrast oomph-ing bass lines, rippling arpeggios swirl around Ellen Allien’s dreamy, accented voice. The songs present a guessing game of which part belongs to whom: interlocking sections shine through as Allien’s as her huge analogue synth leads go head-to-head with Apparat’s grainy crunches and snapping beats, as presented in ‘Turbo Dreams’ and the gorgeous ‘Jet’.

The triangle on ‘Metric’ and ‘Way Out’’s ride cymbal that quietly pushes the chorus along are hidden gems that mark out “Orchestra Of Bubbles” as something that has being meticulously composed. Every aspect of the album sounds considered yet effortless: the vocal stutter that bridges the two sections of ‘Floating Points’ and builds to a demanding SH101 bass line, to standout ‘Do Not Break’, which breathlessly speeds for 5:13 minutes. Its entirety is full and encompassing, even in comparison to Allien’s effervescent “Thrills” released the previous year, and is brimming with the blending of digital and analogue timbres which are so richly textured they are nearly physical. Those looking for an essential song-based techno album and a microcosm of techno in the 2000s will find it in “Orchestra Of Bubbles”.

Ostgut Ton, the Berlin-based label launched six years ago to provide a base for Berghain and Panorama Bar residents, has become the name du jour in the past 18-24 months. ‘90s pioneers Basic Channel’s unique dub-techno sound architecture has left an indelible mark on the productions of Ostgut Ton’s main artists: Ben Klock, Marcel Fengler, Norman Nodge and Marcel Dettmann. Perfunctory, mechanical, cold: adjectives used to describe Ostgut Ton’s output contradict the productions’ true sound. On closer listen they are clearly imbued with a womb-like warmth and depth. Typifying this is Marcel Dettmann’s debut album “Dettmann”, which is filled with immersive atmospherics and bass frequencies that embrace and surround; more akin to Basic Channel and early techno like Model 500 than the icy, driving beat that is associated with Berlin techno. Despite murmurs of a backlash Ostgut Ton have entranced many with its pure stylistic signature and this with Berghain’s infamously strict door policy give the label an exclusive nature that harks back to techno’s beginnings in elite parties for only the most dedicated. Hopefully this limitation will stop the popularity and hype of Ostgut Ton/Berghain been its downfall.

Ahead of his performance at Coachella last year Richie Hawtin was asked in an interview with LA Times: “You’re based in Europe now, where everyone seems to think the edgiest electronic music is being made today. How do you think the American scene can catch up?” To which he replied, “Well, to catch up would be hard in a way because it’s been sustained for so long there. It’s not about catching up; it’s about following your scene and your location’s individual path. And that’s what electronic music’s about. There shouldn’t be one electronic music hit everywhere, like Jay-Z is everywhere. Electronic music is like a snake that you can’t grab. So it should be different in different scenes. That’s what makes it interesting.”

Hawtin’s point encapsulates what techno in the past three decades has been about and done.  It has mutated and flourished in numerous countries, evolving into different breeds independently and yet the genre’s founding ideologies have remained: emotive and human, pushing the limits of technology, valuing music for head as much as the feet. Techno is so adored and indestructible it will continue to be a dominant force for decades to come.

Liam’s Albums of the Year 2010

I think its been a very strong year for music overall and a step up from 2009, though there’s been some high-profile disappointments e.g. Four Tet, MIA, Maximum Balloon etc the real musical landscape seems in a very health state and I think our review of the year bears this out. We’ve both tried to consider what and who has defined the year as well as our own tastes.

1. Oneohtrix Point Never – ‘Returnal’ (Editions Mego)

In any other year this wouldn’t have been anywhere near my Albums of the Year list but discovering Ambient music and  ‘Returnal’ itselfs excellence plus Oneohtrix’s dominance of year make this one un missable album.

2. Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ (EMI)

In terms of song based albums this was incredibly strong from the word go. Add to this the concept behind the album, its environmental message and the incendiary return of Bobby Womack. ‘Plastic Beach’ hangs together while cover an incredible range of musical genres including classical, Oriental, hip-hop, grime, electro, pop and rock to name but a few.

3. El Guincho – ‘Pop Negro’ (Young Turks)

El Guincho stepped his music up several gears on this his second album. Taking in Spanish pop, hip-hop, South American music and 80’s heartthrob Luther Vandross. This gave the album its unique sound combining crisp, heavy but danceable rhythms with a glossy production resulting in an album that always puts a smile on your face.

4. Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs)

This is another summer blockbuster, this time from Congo. Five years on from their début Konono No.1 returned and seemed to have completely flipped their formula on its head. Instead of the persistent distorted thumb pianos occupying the top of the mix they changed places with waves of reverb drenched sound that had previously hidden beneath them. This changed the sound dramatically creating a more relaxed atmosphere.

5. Mark McGuire – ‘Living with Yourself’ (Editions Mego)

2010 was a busy year for Mark McGuire as well as releasing Emeralds critically acclaimed ‘Does It Look Like I’m Here?’ he produced this his first properly distributed solo release. There’s a lot more space in this than Emeralds latest and ambience and melody share equal billing on this great guitar record.

6. Flying Lotus – ‘Cosmogramma’ (Warp)

With ‘Cosmogramma’ FlyLo has transcended any of the generic tags applied to his music. Yes there are snatches of hip-hop, jazz, chiptune, funk and soundtrack music sometimes all at once but the sound can never be pinned down. It may not quite live up to the hype that preceded it but its ambition takes it close.

7. Big Boi – ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ (Def Jam)

I wasn’t a big fan of ‘Speakerboxx’ Big Boi’s side of the OutKast’s 2003 double album. But ‘Sir Luscious Left Foot…’ is completely different album stuffed full of phat, funky beats that could only come from a member of Atlanata’s finest.

8. Sun Araw – ‘On Patrol’ (Not Not Fun)

18 months ago I hadn’t even heard of Sun Araw, but since hearing his music for the first time this spring I’ve been pretty much addicted. This latest album brings new depth to his dub-infected beats and shimmering wah-wah freak outs. The atmosphere and noises go to the next level and I await his next full length journey with bated breath.

9. Lindstrom and Christabelle– ‘Real Life is No Cool’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Lindstrom took a break from his usual cosmic disco dabbling to create a credible pop record with irrepressible Christabelle. Despite its catchiness and production gloss Lindstrom still provides surprises and twists not traditionally found in pop. The highlight of this outstanding collection is the Dr. Dre aping ‘Lovesick’.

10. Matthew Dear – ‘Black City’ (Ghostly International)

Matthew Dear returned this year with a concept album that hung together brilliantly and restored the faith of those critics who’d deemed his earlier effort ‘Asa Breed’ erratic. The conceptual arch of the record made a real difference and makes for a darker but no less thrilling experience.

11. Hot Chip – ‘One Life Stand’ (EMI/DFA)

In some ways Hot Chip are their own worst enemies and this would have charted higher if it had more of the unpredictability of ‘Made In The Dark’. Having said that this record strikes a balance between warm and sweet and sentimental and sickly. Not an easy achievement by any means.

12. Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ (Rock Action)

When this album I heard about this album I didn’t get that excited but as the release drew nearer I revisited their début and realised it was much better and warmer than I remembered. I had feared Errors would become a forgotten second tier post-rock band but instead they stepped up a gear with an album packed with highlights. Go see them live and buy the album you won’t regret it!!

13. Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp)

This album was definitely a grower at first half the material failed to make an impact on me; however repeat listening has paid dividends. Lidell has returned to his schizoid genre and mood hopping and this album benefits massively, from dust ball hip-hop of ‘The Ring’, the super deep bass of ‘She Needs Me’ and the desolate beauty of the title track.

14. The Black Dog – ‘Real Music for Airports’ (Soma)

Another great ambient album in that’s had a few (Oneohtrix, Emeralds etc), this time taking on the inventor and king of ambient music Eno himself and succeeding. Created using field recordings made in airports combined with synths, bass and beats The Black Dog blew Eno’s utopian ideal out of the water.

15. Baths – ‘Cerulean’ (Anticon)

I’ll admit that I’ve not been taken with Chillwave as it swept all before it in last year or so. Though Bath début album touches on similar sounds and ideas I believe (as do some journalists) that he isn’t a part of the genre. Baths cover everything from ambient instrumentals through to tracks featuring his angelic vocals and everything in between, his beat slip and slide with the elastic and liquid music that plays around them.

16. These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ (Domino/Angular)

These New Puritans showed up a lot of their fellow ‘innovative’ indie bands this year by delivering this combination of medieval sounding brass and woodwinds, children’s choir and dancehall beats. It could have been a disaster but instead band leader Jack Barnett’s proved he is a great composer of ground breaking music.

17. Evan Caminiti – ‘West Winds’ (Three Lobed)

Since the end of last year and hearing Sunn O)))’s I’ve discovered more and more drone/doom metal music including Earth, Zaimph and Caminiti’s other project Barn Owl. This album is best of this year’s release and features seven of incredibly provocative pieces including one of my favourite tracks of this year ‘Glowing Sky’.

18. Janelle Monae – ‘The Archandroid’ (Bad Boy/Atlantic)

Like Flying Lotus Monae attempted to produce an ambitious sci-fi concept album and overall she succeeds, however during the second half of the album elements don’t gel as well and the last track could do with  being half as long. There are still many great moments but for now Monae shows the potential to become a truly great artist.

19. Kanye West – ‘My Beautiful Twisted Fantasy’ (Mercury)

This album would have easily been in my  Top Ten if it had only been released a couple of months earlier the lack of time to listen to and digest this means it just straps in because of its ambition and this point what seems to be a high proportion of great tracks.

20. Sleigh Bells – ‘Treats’ (Columbia)

When I first heard Sleigh Bells demos I’ll admit that I wasn’t 100% sure what all the fuss was about, I loved ‘Infinity Guitars’ but other than that they didn’t inspire. However, they’ve proved me wrong with this début album that blends cute pop vocals and melodies with crunching guitars and huge beats. A refreshing slap in the face from a band with a lot of potential to expand!!

Honourable mentions:

LCD Soundsystem – ‘This is Happening’

Caribou – ‘Swim’

Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’

Tobacco – ‘Maniac Meat’

Pocahaunted – ‘Make It Real’

Review of the Year – Observations

Two words seem to have loomed large for me musical this year Ambient and African. Both These types music that were almost completely new to me at the start of the year. Ambient music has actually helped change my perception of what music can be, I’d often dismissed it in the past as it wasn’t attention grabbing enough but I was missing the point. Though I still actively listen to it, I also use it while I work to help me focus (Brian Eno’s ‘Ambient#4: On Land’ is particularly good for this). Ambient has changed the way I choose what music to listen to and judge whether its good or not, I can appreciate subtlety much more.

Meanwhile I’ve gone from only having heard Konono No.1 and Amadou & Miriam to hearing King Sunny Ade, Tinariwen, Tony Allen, Fela Kuti, Mulatu Astake and compilations featuring Afrobeat, Funk and traditional music from Ghana, Nigeria, Benin and Togo. I’ve been most impressed by ‘African Scream Contest: Raw & Psychedelic Afro Sounds from Benin & Togo 70s’ (Analog Africa) which is pretty much as the title suggests, only don’t be expecting an African Hawkwind.

Finally I’ve noticed there’s been a massive increase in quality remix albums, it had seemed that they’d been completed derided and I couldn’t remember the last good/great one I heard. This year has been a bumper year, Health ‘Disco2’ is the pick of bunch 24 great and varied electronic remixes that putting the originals in brand new contexts. We were also treated to remix albums of Caribou (‘Swim Remixes’), Gonjasufi (‘The Califph’s Tea Party’), Errors (Celebrity Come Down With Me’), Bear In Heaven (Best Rest Forth Mouth’), the latest instalment in RVNG Records Frkwys series of remixes and collaborations that saw Juan Atkins, Hans-Joachim Irmer (Faust) and Gibby Hayes (Butthole Surfers) remixed (admittedly awful) psychedelic rock band Psychic Ills to stunning effect.

Vier’s Albums of the Year

20. The Knife, MT. Sims and Planningtorock – Tomorrow, In A Year (Brille): This was never going to be easy. The Knife don’t do easy. The first disk fights the listener at every step. It is confrontational, violent and refuses respite. It beats you into the place of  Charles Darwin, consumed by nervous excitement and anxiety as you walk on alien territory. The second disk offers some humanising introspection and displays The Knife’s (and their collaborators) powerful song writing ability to turn even routine biological observations into heartbreaking poetry. Tomorrow, In A Year isn’t enjoyable, it isn’t supposed to be. Much like Darwin’s vocation, you don’t have to like it or understand it but you must respect it and its objective.

19. Walls – Walls (Kompakt): Haunting and emotive, Walls’ blend of distant thumps and skewed vocals make a compelling, slow-grower.

18. Jatoma – Jatoma (Kompakt): A late entry to the list has given Jatoma a low position nonetheless the cloaked threesome’s debut deserves to be listened to. The sparkly, modulating synths and exacting drums hark back to Cluster and Kraftwerk and on the straighter dance tracks ‘Durian’ and ‘Bou’ the influence of The Field is channelled into gauzy loops and arpeggios.  This and Walls fit Kompakt perfectly and point the way to the next era of the Cologne label.

17. Washed Out – Life Of Leisure (Mexican Summer): This debut is the sound of summer nostalgia. Revealed by the cover’s lilac dream, warm washes of synths and the sighs and lilts of Ernest Greene’s drenched voice.

16. Caribou – Swim (City Slang): Opening with seasick standout ‘Odessa’, Swim is steady and deceptively dark. The accomplished production places an interesting stereo field on the tracks, giving the instruments and rhythms a side-to-side, rocking feel, which works impressively well both at home and in clubs – something few dance albums have fully mastered.

15. Holy Fuck – Latin (Young Turks): The four-piece adeptly construct tracks that are direct yet reveal deeper layers and sounds on repeat, demonstrating that as well as effected soundscapes they can make confident songs.

14. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA): Of all the albums on the list This Is Happening was the most troublesome. When it hits it proves James Murphy is an incredible composer, lyricist and singer (tender crooning replaces the snot) and it proves LCD are an incendiary unit. So their third album should be top 3 but, but… when it doesn’t hit its pastiche-y, uninspired and, worst of all, irritating, because it could be fucking great if only those influences, which were previously sown together with love and affection, were not so glaringly obvious now. The total of their sum parts made LCD exciting yet for This… it is as if Murphy collected those sum parts then went missing but, but… even if for One Touch, Dance Yrself Clean and I Can Change alone it still deserves a place in the top 20.

13. Marc Houle – Drift (M-nus): The Techno Priest delivers an intense lecture in experimental techno as Drift travels from the suffocating winter darkness to the onset of spring. As the ice recedes Houle’s mood has lightened: the tracks develop playfully, analogue synths are tweaked and melodies shine. An eloquent representation of December’s freeze.

12. Black Dog – Music For Real Airports: Composed of field recordings and recalling Autechre and Plastikman, Music For Real Airports recreates an alienating environment where disconnected bleeps, beats and deep bass drums meet brittle hi-hats and ambient atmospherics that oppose Eno’s 1978 utopia.

11. El Guincho – Pop Negro (Young Turks): In direct contrast to Drift, Pop Negro is an aural Um Bongo – refreshing, bright yellow and highly addictive. El Guincho sings in his native, both joyous and yearning, Spanish, while intricate compositions of bouncing melodies, 808 claps and Latin pop are so full of life you bounce back to summer, Um Bongo in hand.

10. Harmonious Thelonious – Talking (Italic): German techno, Minimalism and African percussion are not the most obvious partners but Talking combines these influences with ease. The producer’s debut is a trance-inducing collection of hypnotic rhythmic patterns and danceable voodoo atmospheres. Its pulse is driven by African rhythms and European electronics that create a challenging, playful and deeply idiosyncratic record.

9. Zola Jesus – Stridulum II (Souterrain Transmissions): After sitting on the boundaries of my usual taste I checked out this release after she gained support from Fever Ray, with whom she shares a kinship of producing cathartic and oppressive yet seductive reassurances you want to selfishly take for yourself.

8. Magda – From The Fallen Page (M-nus): After the first listen I was disappointed that this wasn’t as varied or as distinctly ‘Magda’ as her much praised mixes are. With repeated listens her debut reveals her personality is more delicately placed alongside tongue-in-cheek glimpses of Italian horror movie sounds, dark atmospherics and awe-inspiring basslines.

7. Oneohtrix Point Never – Returnal (Editions Mego): For me Returnal brings to mind GAS. Drum-less synthesiser constructs have the air of classical music’s rise and falls and dignified ambience but where GAS is isolation, Lopatin’s creations evoke a dreamy silvery trees and ghostly voices blanketed by a thick fog.

6. Matthew Dear – Black City (Ghostly International): Dear’s third album under his birth name sees him fully immersed in the role of the seamy narrator that Asa Breed hinted at. The thick Talking Heads-indebted productions and bodiless utterances swallow his voice as he recounts strangely alluring tales of desire and sleaze.

5. Konono No.1 – Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs): Similar to other list entries the songs on Assume Crash Position instantly hit, giving out a warm, uplifting feel while endowing an ample amount of depth, breadth and emotional resonance. The Congolese group prove that artists don’t need the best equipment money can buy to create impressive music.

4. Marcel Dettmann – Dettmann (Ostgut Ton): Lovers of deep, warm techno should listen to this Berghain resident’s debut. Dettmann is an effortlessly lean example of present-day techno structured with an elegance that only German artists are achieving.

3. Ellen Allien – Dust (Bpitch Control): It isn’t the perfectly skewed electronic pop of Berlinette but thankfully it’s not the unrelentingly dull Sool. Allien is back doing what she does best. Belying her attention to detail, Dust is a collection of playful and immediate hymns to love, sex and dancing.

2. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade): With a cover that isn’t what it first appears, the songs within unfurl and open up to reveal a meticulous mix of haunting chimes and clusters of percussion that build into something dark and forceful, giving Hendrik Weber’s Black Noise a sound that always seems to be on the edge of erupting into something devastating.

1. Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft (Kompakt): This took the pole position on the ‘Best Album’s Of The Year….So Far’ June piece and it remains there six months on. Though composed as a soundtrack to real-time documentary ‘24 Hour Berlin’, Gute Luft plays like a loving tribute to Fehlmann’s partner Gudrun Gut. Drums shuffle and rebound, claps and basslines thrust hips, synths bathe, sing, slink, embrace and reminisce, creating a perfect example of sensuous and dreamy elegance.

Mixes of note:

  • DJ Kicks: Apparat (!K7) (which features a new track from Telefon Tel Aviv, the first Joshua Eustis has made since Charlie Cooper passed away in 2009)

  • Ben Klock – Berghain Vol. 2 (Ostgut Ton)

  • Marcel Dettmann – Berghain Vol. 4 (Ostgut Ton)

  • V/A – Fünf (Ostgut Ton)

Honourable mentions:

  • Reboot – Shunyata (Cadenza)

  • Efdemin – Chicago (Dial)

  • Greie Gut Fraktion – Baustelle (Monika Enterprise)

Spotify playlist:

Sonic Fiction’s Albums of the Year 2010

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of the Year – Observations

Due to the wealth of Berghain and Ostgut Ton releases I’ve been inspired to listen further to the spiritual forefathers: Basic Channel, GAS and Pole etc., all of whom I missed the first time round, owing to being at primary school. As discussed in my minimal techno piece these artists composed some of the most vital and interesting music of the nineties and are still essential: their material has birthed the recent dub-techno stirrings from Berlin and elsewhere. Marcel Dettmann and Ben Klock, the Action Man poster boys of the resurgence in metallic, intense and climatic Berlin-centred techno, have released one effortless album, an EP and a handful of mixes. Listening to these is an education and an exciting preview of what is to come.

After reading the Kosmische Musik book (see below) I listened to Harmonia with Zuckerzeit and Tracks and Traces standing out. I went back to most of Cluster’s catalogue and found Sowiesoso and their 1977 collaboration with Eno to be the best introduction to the genre, though all are worth checking out.

On another note, 2010 has been absolutely dominated by doorstop. For a genre that was spawned from the underground we have witnessed a depressing inevitability in it going mainstream: advert soundtracks and daytime Radio 1 plays, guest spots and interviews (She-devil Fearne Cotton and dullstent! Skills!). It is everywhere, omnipresent, ubiquitous, all-pervading, as such I cannot hear, read or type that word anymore without wanting to burn it . Worst still is that duckstep is so ball-achingly tedious, a fact no one has critically addressed as everyone is falling over themselves praising the most monotonous and lifeless sound that has plagued this year’s musical landscape. Perhaps in 2011 it will go back from whence it came.

Books

Earlier this year I read Krautrock: Cosmic Rock and its Legacy, which is a comprehensively-written collection of the German Kosmische Musik artists. The author and journalists contribute an overview of Germany and the mindset of the generation born during and after WWII to put the work of the artists in a fascinating context. Also on the list was Anna Funder’s Stasiland, a collection of moving stories of those who lived under Communist rule in East Germany interspersed with Funder’s retrospective view (the book was published in 1997) on the regime, the people who upheld it and those who it destroyed and how Leipzig (where the Stasi headquarters were based) and Berlin have dealt with the effects of the Berlin Wall falling and the full extent of the regime being uncovered. Both are entirely worth reading.

These two charts list our Top Ten Albums of the Year…so far. All the albums talked about on the site are recommended (unless explicitly pointed out) but we felt a list at the half way point might guide people to what we think are the best.

Sonic Fiction editor Liam Flanagan’s Top Ten Albums:

1. Hot Chip – ‘One Life Stand’ (DFA/EMI)

1. Gorillaz – ‘Plastic Beach’ (EMI)

It was difficult picking between the latest releases from Hot Chip and Gorillaz as both have produced albums that reach high standards of songwriting. Hot Chip achieve this via a consistent sound whereas Gorillaz genre-hop from track to track and both are heads and shoulders above the rest.

2. Konono No.1 – ‘Assume Crash Position’ (Crammed Discs)

Five years on from their début ‘Congotronics Vol.1’, Konono No.1 out do themselves. Adding guitar, bass and a sublime feeling to their busy trademark likembe-driven sound. The sound of sunshine contrasts with the industrial origin of their homemade equipment to create an intriguing  juxtaposition.

3. Lindstrom & Christabelle – ‘Real Life is No Cool’ (Smalltown Supersound)

Cosmic disco producer Lindstrom delivers another great collaboration album, this time with vocalist Christabelle. Across ten tracks they celebrate all that is great about modern and retro disco, dance and pop music.

4. Holy Fuck – ‘Latin’ (Young Turks/XL)

Holy Fuck’s latest offering sees them cleaning up their sound with band co-founder Graham Walsh on production duties. The record builds on the excellent complex soundscapes from ‘LP’ (2007) and demonstrates the band’s songwriting abilities while losing none of what previously made them unique.

5. Jamie Lidell – ‘Compass’ (Warp)

Lidell returns to the form that made 2005’s ‘Multiply’ such a deep and enjoyable lesson. Yet where Lidell made use of his extremely talented musical friends and a fair amount of technology on ‘Multiply’ this time he assembled a crack team of musicians (including Motown drummer James Gadson, Wilco’s Pat Sansone and Feist) and co-produced the album with Beck and Chris Taylor (Grizzly Bear). The most organic of Lidell’s albums, it journeys through a bewildering range of emotional and musical space.

6. LCD Soundsystem – ‘This Is Happening’ (DFA/EMI)

Despite some tracks disappointing due to the repetition of previous ideas, James Murphy still manages to produce an album that would stir up jealousy in many musicians. The last three tracks are particularly  impressive and expressive. ‘Pow Pow’ being my favourite.

7. The Black Dog – ‘Music for Real Airports’ (Soma)

An album that challenges Brian Eno’s version of a utopian airport space on his original ‘Music for Airports’ (1978). The Black Dog may have actually outdone Eno, but only time will tell.

8. Errors – ‘Come Down with Me’ (Rock Action)

Errors display an ability to compete with their contemporaries where they previously suffered criticism for apparently lacking a distinctive sound. On ‘Come Down with Me’ they not only address this but also develop their melodic flair, producing a slow burner that pays off with big rewards for repeat listeners.

9. These New Puritans – ‘Hidden’ (Angular/Domino)

These New Puritans’ début album was widely misunderstood and no-one expected them to return with this sound. ‘Hidden’ combines a children’s choir, brass and string sections and foley sound recordings and welds them to tribal percussion and deep hip-hop and dancehall beats. This adventurous album could easily have gone awry but composer and leader Jack Barnett marshals these disparate influences into a cohesive whole.

Spotify Playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far playlist

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far playlist

Our new bi-monthly contributor Izvestia’s Top Ten Albums:

1.  Thomas Fehlmann – Gute Luft (Kompakt)

Composed as a soundtrack for 24 Hour Berlin, a documentary that followed a day in the lives of Berliners in real time, Gute Luft is a faultless journey through dreamy, gently pulsating techno amid a refined sexiness.

2. Ellen Allien – Dust (Bpitch Control)

It isn’t the perfectly skewed electronic pop of Berlinette but thankfully it’s not the unrelentingly dull Sool. Allien is back doing what she does best. Belying her attention to detail, Dust is playful, poppy and immediate.

3. Pantha du Prince – Black Noise (Rough Trade)

With a cover that isn’t what it first appears, the songs within unfurl and open up to reveal a meticulous mix of haunting chimes and clusters of percussion that build into something dark and forceful, giving Black Noise a sound that always seems to be on the edge of erupting into something devastating.

4. Marcel Dettmann – Dettmann (Ostgut Ton)

Lovers of austere techno should listen to this Berghain resident’s debut. Dettmann is an effortlessly lean example of present-day techno structured with an elegance that only German artists seem to be achieving.

5. LCD Soundsystem – This Is Happening (DFA/EMI)

Potentially the last album by LCD, the central focus is love and separation with mixed results. ‘One Touch’ and ‘I Can Change’ are as impressive as anything on Sound Of Silver but elsewhere the influences are too clear and lack the subtlety James Murphy has demonstrated previously.

6. Holy Fuck – Latin (Young Turks/XL)

The four-piece adeptly construct tracks that are fun and direct yet reveal deeper layers and sounds on repeat and prove that they can make songs as well as effected soundscapes .

7. Etienne Jaumet – Night Music (Versatile Records)

Analogue synthesis plus Carl Craig. Nice.

8. Caribou – Swim (City Slang)

Opening with the seasick album highlight Odessa, this dance-influenced release is well-produced and consistent and though not a natural singer, Dan Snaith’s voice blends into the songs and becomes another instrument in the mix.

9. Konono No. 1 – Assume Crash Position (Crammed Discs)

Similar to other list entries the songs on Assume Crash Position instantly hit, giving out a warm, uplifting feel while endowing an ample amount of depth, breadth and emotional resonance. The Congolese group prove that artists don’t need the best equipment money can buy to create impressive music

10.  The Black Dog – Music For Real Airports (Soma)

Composed of field recordings and recalling Autechre and Plastikman, Music For Real Airports recreates an alienating environment where disconnected bleeps, beats and deep bass drums meet brittle hi-hats and ambient atmospherics.

Spotify playlist (HTTP link, then Spotify link):

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far Izvestia

Top Ten Albums of 2010…so far Izvestia

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